From Endurance to Dressage
As usual, I used my Pivo Pod to record my Sunday ride. While I love having a lesson on Saturday with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, it's my Sunday rides that give me a chance to try out what I learned the day before.
While I have learned to be flexible with each day's riding goals - Izzy doesn't usually read the same playbook as me, I knew that playing around with creating bend from the inside leg was definitely a must do. It didn't matter if we did it in the canter or not, but we were going to work on it. I warmed Izzy up as usual, but I kept reminding him that if he braced and leaned into my inside leg instead of bending around it, a sharp poke would be waiting for him.
Just to be clear, the goal is not the sharp poke. The goal is to encourage softness and bend around my inside leg with the lightest possible aid. Ideally, that would be a weighted inside seat bone. Right now, I haven't made that aid clear enough for Izzy which is why I am helping him to connect the dots: inside leg at the girth means bend. If he doesn't bend, he will feel a sharp poke. If I can become very consistent in asking and reinforcing, he will learn very quickly to wrap himself around my leg and soften through his neck and poll. He is already making those connections.
Early on in the ride, I asked for the right lead canter. As soon as he braced and leaned into my inside leg, I gave him a poke and carried on. It only took three circles for him to make better life choices. In the video below, you can tell right when I put my spur in because he hops away from me, but about the third time around, I had convinced him to stop bracing as we passed the gate end of the arena. Was it perfect? No, but he demonstrated that he was listening. We went on to something else.
Throughout the ride, I put on my teacher hat and presented the idea of creating softness from my inside leg in lots of different ways. So often, my students only learn a new idea after seeing a number of different examples. With Izzy, I walked up each quarterline asking for a change of bend with my inside leg. It was like dribbling a soccer ball: bend to the left, bend to right, bend to the left, bend to the right. Each time I asked for the new bend, I did it by first weighting the new seat bone and then pressing my calf at the girth. Only if he didn't change the bend did I poke him with the spur.
I also asked for some steeper leg yields which he is doing really well. We still have too much shoulder one moment followed by too much haunches the next, but that's really all just pilot error. I need to remember to ride him forward into both reins evenly while monitoring the haunches. I tend to ask for too much haunches which is something Speedy "taught" me.
To finish up the idea of creating bend and softness with my inside leg, we worked on traverse to half pass. The half pass to the right was a real struggle. He kept fighting to take the bend away from me. I had him do the half pass twice, and when he gave me a half pass that was at least better than the first one, I took what he was willing to offer and moved on to the left side. It wasn't great by any means, but I was really encouraged by the effort he offered.
In the video below, his traverse is pretty decent, maybe not super consistent, but the bend is there. In the half pass, the bend is not nearly enough - at least I don't think so, but what I was rewarding was his effort. He didn't take the bend away; instead, he kept trying which is all I ever really want from him - the try.
The one thing that I have learned about this horse is that as he's learning something new, it tends to get worse before it gets better. It might take him a few weeks to accept my inside leg as an aid for bend. And for certain, I know that over-using the spur is a recipe for disaster which is why I've asked Sean to keep an eye on my effective use of the aids (as it were). Even knowing it might get worse for a bit, I am so encouraged by the progress we're making. I know none of this is brilliant, but I am proud of our progress.
Who knows? Maybe we'll get to show Training Level, Test 2 next year!
I always learn at least a little during my Saturday lessons, but THIS Saturday was a biggie. Over the past month, Izzy and I have had to tread water so to speak as we waited for that last brutal heat wave to end. I was hopeful that he'd come out on the other side still trusting me. Saturday's ride showed me that my slow and steady approach paid off.
Except for Wednesday, I was able to ride each day during the past week. The weekend before had been terribly hot, so my ride's rides were really short, but we did do a little. By Monday, the temperature dropped more than 30 degrees. Each day, I asked Izzy for a little more, adding new questions each day. By Thursday we were finally schooling movements, and by Friday, the "sas" was really starting to show. I wasn't sure what I'd get for Saturday's lesson, but I knew he was ready to return to work.
With Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, in my ear, Izzy warmed up easily without any tension. I even mentioned to Sean that warming up is now a pleasant experience. Izzy gets right to work. Even after his warm up coughs, he no longer loses his balance and bolts. He has learned how to cough and keep right on going. I know that sounds like a duh moment, but it's sort of huge for the King of Making Me Yell - and yes that's a real place, "Oh, shit!" as I try not to die. Which, by the way, I haven't had to yell in at least a year, probably longer.
Anyway, as we trotted around, I talked about how braced Izzy still is in the right lead canter. He's a bit stiff to the left as well, but until we can get him to let go reliably while tracking right, the flying change will never happen. Sean asked if I am doing simple changes down the long side alternating which lead we pick up. As though we've done it all our lives, I asked Sean, like this? as we be-bopped from one lead to the other, counter cantering the short sides.
I am laughing aloud as I write this because I am not sure who was more surprised by the ease at which Izzy was able to pick up the counter counter and hold it, Sean or me. Or maybe even Izzy for that matter. Either way, it was as though I've schooled them hundreds of times. I had worked on it over the week, but the dude really hit it out of the park. I shouldn't be surprised though as Sean has said from the beginning that if we spend most of our time on the basics, the hard stuff becomes easy.
So there we were picking up the counter canter through simple changes and changes of lead through trot. That's when Sean basically told me to cool my jets, and yes, I am paraphrasing. What he actually said was that he wasn't at all upset by what he was watching. He felt that the small mistakes, like the loss of balance and bracing, would fix themselves with time. He said that I need to be patient and recognize that I am doing everything right. That's when I told him about being the kind of person who looks first at what she might be doing wrong while asking if there is more that she should be doing. I wrote about that yesterday.
He couldn't see anything that I was doing wrong, but he did have a great suggestion. Each month, Izzy comes to a new place in his understanding of his job. As he develops more and more confidence in both himself and me, and by extension, Sean, he allows me to ask more complicated questions and tolerates firmer corrections.
In the right bend, Sean felt it was time to use my spur a bit more strongly. When I said that I was poking Izzy with the spur, Sean said that he wanted me to poke Izzy in the "liver." It should be a clear enough poke that Izzy should feel uncomfortable, thereby causing him to think twice about ignoring my inside leg in the future. I know it sounds harsh to "poke him in the liver," but I understood what Sean meant. I put Izzy on a circle, and lifted my heel up and into his side. It took me a few times to gauge how much poke to give him - not enough the first few times to get a response, but when I figured it out, Izzy wrapped his body around my inside leg and quit bracing.
Sean's purpose was to teach me how to teach Izzy that the bend should come from my inside leg and not my inside rein. The rein should be to guide him, not correct him. If I have to tug his head around, we'll never get a flying change or even a decent shoulder-in or half pass. It only took a couple of "pokes to the liver" before Izzy started bending through his body. To test his new awareness of my inside leg, we did some shoulder-in and travers where I did have to poke him a time or two, but eventually he started anticipating the shift in my weight aid and recognized that a poke would be next if he didn't start bending.
When we moved the "poke him in the liver" idea to the canter, I laughed out loud. For maybe the first time ever, my job as the rider got so much easier. Instead of trying to muscle his neck into bending, I just gave a poked with my spur, and suddenly we had a balanced, adjustable canter. As soon as I felt it, I knew I should ask for a flying change. Sean had the same idea. Before I could ask though, Izzy lost his balance a bit and fell back into a trot. Sean suggested I find that balanced canter again, straighten Izzy by moving his ribcage over, and then quietly ask for a flying change.
I did what Sean suggested. I put my right spur in to say bend around my leg. I kept repeating, it's just another canter stride, it's just another canter stride. When we were ready, I straightened him by pushing his ribcage over with my new inside leg and gave a scoop with my seat. It was a bit wild and wooly with a lot of flying before the change, but he did the change on my aids. It scared the heck out of him, and he shot forward in a bit of discombobulated gallop, but he did it. Once I more or less had him under control, I patted his neck and brought him back to a less chaotic trot.
So yeah. Flying changes are no longer part of our distant future. They're here!
A few different friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers have been asking me about Pivo. What is it? How does it work? What do I need if I want to get one? Even though I have written about my Pivo experiences quite a few times, my set up has changed a lot in just the past year. So ... here goes.
First, what exactly is a Pivo Pod?
Basically, it's a small, rechargeable device that pairs via Bluetooth to a smart phone. It rotates the phone when recording video or using the Meet option for Zoom-like calls so that it both tracks your horse and zooms in and out as needed.
Which Pivo Pod do I need, and what accessories should I get?
I have the Pivo Silver which has since been renamed Pivo Pod Active. While Pivo offers a bunch of different accessories, I bought the basic package which has served me perfectly. If you intend to use it for recording your riding, get the Pivo Pod Active as it has faster tracking than the Pivo Pod Lite. Depending on your situation, you'll probably discover that you need a few more things. Here is my current pile of accessories along with links for where to buy them.
My accessories include:
One of my biggest issues with the Pivo Pod while doing virtual lessons is that it causes my phone to get really hot. Last year, I used a box to shade my Pivo, but once I switched from the Pivo Play app to the Pivo+ app for virtual lessons, the amount my phone heated up exceeded the cooling that my box could offer. I covered the box in a mylar thermal blanket which helped through most of the summer. Then, our temperatures skyrocketed, and even that wasn't enough. Thanks to my friend Wendy, I discovered a cell phone cooler which is primarily used by video gamers. So far, used in conjunction with my box, I haven't had any more overheating, and it is as hot as it ever gets here.
How does Pivo Work?
Pivo has three apps - all of which are free to download. Pivo Play is used for recording, and Pivo Cast is used for virtual lessons. It is my understanding that Pivo is pulling support for Pivo Cast, and maybe even Pivo Play as well, in exchange for Pivo+ which does what both the other apps do, but all in one app. Anticipating that support for the other apps will soon disappear, I made the switch to Pivo+ which is now the only app I use.
Pivo has a fantastic Facebook page, and the customer support has been great. It's not a complicated device to operate, but it does have limitations. If you choose to purchase one, remember that you are getting the cheapest AI device out there which means it's not a twenty-second century robot. Its brain is pretty tiny, but it tries its best to follow you. Setting yourself up for success requires some strategic planning on your part.
First of all, it doesn't track YOU; it tracks moving rectangles. Horses are more or less moving rectangles with legs. Pivo cannot tell the difference between your horse and another horse in the ring, so be prepared to ride by yourself for best results. If Pivo spots a better rectangle, say another horse or a product banner with nice contrast, it's going to ditch you in favor of the best rectangle it can find. Riding a dark horse in dark lighting makes it hard for Pivo to differentiate between your horse and the dirt. If your horse is the same color as your footing, Pivo can't "see" your horse.
There are things you can do to help Pivo's vision. Put a white pad and leg boots on a dark horse. Use a black pad and leg boots on a light horse. Wear clothing that contrast with your horse's coat or tack. Remove horse-sized rectangles from your riding area. To set Pivo up for success, your horse, the footing, and the surrounding objects and vegetation need to provide contrast.
In my experience, Pivo works best FOR ME set up at A or C (and even E/B). My horse is not reliable enough for Pivo to be set up on a tripod at X. Out of sheer buttholeness, Izzy would either aim for the tripod or flick a hoof that direction to see if he could topple Pivo. Other riders have great success with Pivo situated in the center of the ring, but not me. My Pivo is set up at A, mounted to the top rail with the bendy legs of my flexible tripod.
How do I use Pivo to record?
When I record a ride, usually on Sundays, this is my set up process:
How do I use Pivo for virtual Lessons?
First, talk to your trainer, he or she might already have some experience doing virtual training. Second, your trainer has to use Chrome as the web browser. Whoever is watching you also needs a device; whether it is a smart phone, tablet, or computer doesn't really matter, but the larger the screen, the easier it is for him or her to see you. Even when you do everything right, there will still be days where things go haywire. Ask me how I know.
To do my virtual lessons with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, this is what we do.
How do I keep all of that stuff stored and charged?
One last bit of advice ... Doing virtual lessons requires a lot of cables and pieces of "things." I keep everything stored in its own little bag. Pivo came with a mini case which inspired my other storage solutions. My ear buds live in a cushioned zippered bag, and my cooling device lives in a hard sided case that once held a no longer used piece of technology. Everything else is big enough to be dropped into my backpack.
Underneath my desk, I keep a dedicated surge protector for my laptop and Pivo gadgets. Every Friday night, since I have lessons on Saturday mornings, everything gets plugged in to charge overnight. Having a spot for each device ensures that nothing doesn't get charged for my weekly lesson. In the morning, I grab everything, stuff it into its storage container, throw it in my backpack, and away I go. Frankly, it is a lot of work, but I now have the system down pat. Usually. A week or two I forgot my phone and had to race back home to get it.
If you're thinking about a Pivo, you probably already have a need for it. If you join the Facebook group, remember that people who aren't having problems rarely post their success. You will see far more Pivo sucks! posts because not all riders are willing to investigate or do their homework. Ask questions, and if you do, you will get Pivo to work reliably for you. In just two years, Pivo has paid for itself more times than I can count. What I save in fuel costs and wear and tear on my truck has enabled me to take weekly lessons from a trainer who lives nearly three hours away.
In tomorrow's post, my "Heatshield" box.
I know you know it is hot pretty much everywhere in the northern hemisphere, but our recent heat wave is relevant to this conversation. A week and a half ago, Izzy and I went to a show where he and I finally both did our parts. He behaved himself, and I actually rode instead of sitting there like a wooden figure.
The entire next week was brutally hot. The only day that was under a hundred degrees was Monday, but since he had worked so hard at the show the day before, I knew he needed Monday off. I rode on Tuesday. When I tacked up it was a not-so-scorching 97, but by the time I untacked, it was 100 ℉. Izzy was not a happy camper during what was supposed to be a very quick fifteen minutes of a few transitions and then be done. We ended up working for a half an hour in an effort to get him to relax a bit.
On Saturday morning, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, joined me on a Pivo Meet for my weekly lesson. Izzy was warming up great. Sean was quite pleased with how relaxed Izzy was, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself. And then we started the canter work.
Things have been progressing quite smoothly with Izzy over the past few months, so Sean is always looking for ways to help me push Izzy just a little bit out of his comfort zone. We'll never improve if we don't struggle a bit. The canter is one place where Izzy still braces rather than stretching forward to the contact.
Sean encouraged me to think about riding Izzy forward into the contact when I have him soft. Up until this point, our canter has lacked any energy. The reason for that is that Izzy's brain hasn't been able to cope with a bigger, more active stride. But, it's feeling like he might be ready to take that next step. So once I had him round and mostly soft, I asked for more energy and pushed my hands forward a bit. Instead of reaching for the contact, Izzy lost his balance and fell into a trot.
That would normally be okay; he's still trying to find his balance, but on Saturday, the hamsters fell off the little wheel. I can't be sure, but I think they may have pulled an Elvis and left the building completely. I spent the next thirty-five minutes riding small circles and doing mini leg yields. I tried all of the tools in my toolbox, but it became clear that not dying was the goal for the day. Izzy started doing that loud snort thing; Sean asked if I was okay. Riding a 16'3 hand bottle of rocket fuel is not always safe. And when your bottle of rocket fuel makes that sound at the same time, the bottle of rocket fuel is probably going to launch.
I assured Sean that I had it under control. So instead of an actual lesson, I asked Sean to carry on a conversation with me while I worked on deescalating the situation. I wanted someone there who could call 9-1-1 if Izzy did manage to toss me. By the end of the lesson, Izzy was much more relaxed, and the trot circles had become walk circles. The lesson was disappointing for both Sean and me, but we both recognized that Izzy just couldn't do what we were asking him to do.
I went home and thought about what might have led to the mini-meltdown. It has been excessively hot so Izzy hasn't had much work over the past few weeks. Excess energy might have been a factor. Even though it was only in the high 70s while I rode, it hasn't ever actually cooled down, so Izzy might have been grumpy from the monotony of the heat.
When I came out on Sunday morning, it occurred to me that it might not have been either of those things. Izzy wasn't being his super friendly self, so I began to wonder if he might have lost some of his confidence. I had asked a lot of him the previous Sunday and then hadn't done anything with him all week other than feed and and pet him. I determined that Sunday's ride was going to be about reconnecting on a "girl and her horse" level.
We stopped by every little grassy spot we could find to nibble before I tacked up. I played little games that he likes and took extra time getting ready. When we got up to the arena, he was a bit spooky, so I hand walked him until I saw the tension melt from his body. When I finally did get on, we walked some more until I felt his back begin to swing. When I finally asked him for a trot, I made sure to keep it very relaxed and let him stretch down as long as he wanted to. I also made sure to work in the parts of the arena where he is the most comfortable. I gave him lots of walk breaks and told him he was the best boy ever.
We didn't work long, maybe twenty-five minutes. Afterwards, I gave him a cool shower and left him turned out on the lawn while "J" rode Speedy. When I put him away with his bucket of lunch goodies, he had a much more relaxed look on his face. The next next morning, I did the same thing while reminding myself that with the weather so hot, it's not like I am able to get any "real" work done anyway, so why not simply focus on our connection.
On Monday, Izzy was amazing. I started out the same way by taking my time with everything I did and letting him snack on his way up to the arena. I set up my Pivo and gradually put him to work. When we got to the canter, I told him that I was going to ask for a bit more energy, but this time, I was very aware that he needed a lot of help managing his balance. To the right, I was rewarded with a bit more of an uphill canter than he normally gives me.
After yet another walk break, we picked up the left lead canter. I watched the video later that day expecting to see a fantastically bold extended canter because that is what his canter had felt like. Of course that's not what I saw, but he and I both knew he was offering me something very new. His canter had a wonderful feeling of bounding, and I could see his withers lift as his hind legs carried more weight. And rather than feeling off balance, I could tell that he felt great. Even when I told him we could come back down to a trot if he needed to, he very happily cantered around a few more times obviously enjoying the new sense of balance he had achieved.
So even though Saturday's lesson appeared to be a waste of Sean's time - not that Sean ever feels that way, it turned out that I got a very valuable nugget of an idea that I was able to polish over the next two days. It is going to continue being hot for the next two months, so on the afternoons that are too hot to ride, I will be playing with Izzy in order to maintain that personal connection that he so clearly needs.
After all, isn't that what being with our horses is really about? It's not the showing or the ribbons, but the way they make us feel. If we lose that, then what is the point?
Some of you might remember that a few years ago, my migraines got so bad that getting out of bed became difficult. As bad as it hurt, I just couldn't quit though. In the spring of that year, Speedy and I made our Second Level debut. I was hurting, and I felt completely out of my depth. On the way to the show, one of my favorite songs came on the radio, and it hit me in all the right places. You can read about that experience here. That song became our song. Whenever I doubted myself, that song reminded me that Speedy had my back.
On Sunday, Izzy and I went to a small, USDF show put on by my local CDS Chapter. Over the past few months, It has become clear that while he is not easy to ride, I've been part of the problem, too. Last month's show painted a very clear picture; I haven't been "riding" my horse. I've been sitting there, frozen solid, worried that I'll upset Izzy and cause a blow up. My take-away from that show was that I had better get my ducks in a row and find a way around that inability to relax while showing.
For me, awareness of an issue will nearly always fix whatever's wrong. I needed to work on it of course, but I can now say that I rode my horse on Sunday. It didn't come without some hard work though. Along with a bit of money spent and a fortuitous radio moment, I think I am once again riding while showing.
Working weekly with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, had a lot to do with it. He's been after me for the past year to quit worrying about scores and instead focus on my riding. He finally got through to me. To help, I also bought a new pair of Esprit Equestrian breeches; they look like breeches, but they're actually tights. My hope was that by riding in something less restrictive than breeches, I might feel more relaxed. I was right; I did.
As for the radio moment, I had just left the barn with Izzy loaded up and an hour drive ahead of me. I refused to feel stressed out for the entire drive, so I turned up the radio and waited for something inspiring to play. Almost immediately another favorite song came at just the right moment. It was a Dan + Shay number, a duo that always speaks to my heart. Part of the lyrics go like this:
I got you for the rest of my days
In the sun on Sunday morning or the pouring rain
'Cause I got you for the rest of my life
And if all else goes wrong, baby, I'll be alright
'Cause I got you
Speedy always had my back, and I knew that he would always bring his A game. Izzy can't do that, but hearing that song inspired me to tell Izzy that I got you! For the entire warm up and again during the test, I kept telling him "it was going to be okay, because I got you." And equally important for me was that if it went all wrong, I'll be alright.
Part 2 tomorrow ...
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%